« The Cilice and the Discipline | Main | Trashing the Bible »

May 21, 2006

The "A" Word -- 4

From an interview with Sam Harris, author of the tough End of Faith:

I'm very distrustful of finding the right label because labels are ultimately sloganeering. You had the label the "brights," which is stillborn. I think atheism and secularism are also names that ultimately we don't need. We don't need a name for disbelief in astrology. I don't think we need anything other that rationality and reason and intellectual honesty.

But I can't subtitle my book: A History of Rationality and Reason. Problem not solved.

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at May 21, 2006 8:20 PM


Agreed with Sam I am.
Religion is what lies between reality and consciousness. To act consciously requires a leap of faith, assumptions about the relationship of our perceptions to the real world.

Must you have a subtitle? The problem is you are looking for words that accurately describe the indescribable; which is exactly what religion does.

Even the main title, "Without Gods", assumes that we are not Gods ourselves, creating and recreating our worlds, moment by moment, puzzling together memories and perceptions into a personal faith based reality.

I know I am only making things more difficult for you (maybe you should have left me under that memory rock), and I know that the way I see things often (hopefully not always) leads to insanity and stigmatization. But I am obsessed with the construction and deconstruction of consciousness and the reality of our individual isolation.

Posted by: Jay Saul at May 21, 2006 9:30 PM

The label is useless. That is, it has no conventional use. To say "I am a (insert label here)." has no meaning in a religious context. Our problem is that we do not understand ourselves. If we wish to understand ourselves surely we must toss away all unessential baggage we associate with the psyche.

What is the purpose of the label "atheist"? What is it that the label is supposedly describing? Does one need a label to point out the absurdity of the believers' claims?

Posted by: Peter Rock at May 21, 2006 11:21 PM

Hows about "A History of Heresy"?

Posted by: Jay Saul at May 21, 2006 11:28 PM

But it's not just heresy. Newton seems to have been a Christian but he clung to a secret "heresy": he didn't believe in the trinty. Luther was a heretic, no?

And I'm writing a book; I got to label; though I do have the privilege of explaining labels.

Posted by: mitch at May 22, 2006 1:55 AM

Do you want the title to "explain" the book, or get people to read it? Explaining seems beyond common vocabulary unless you use a paragraph.

What is it other than heresy? There seems to be no way around using words defined by their non-religiousness and using heresy would be the ultimate irony; it turns the pejorative on its head.

Besides "A History of Heresy" sings and emphasizes the courageousness of those who thought their way through the myths to their own understanding of reality. It is the scarlet "A" we wear.

Of course history is littered with partial believers, partial heretics, but even what we would think of as minor heresies had to be hidden from the morality enforcers. We are all partial believers; one cannot act without belief. It is not believing in Gods that is the difference, no? We believe the sun will come up and things will fall if we drop them.

Heresy requires internal honesty and to express it requires external fearlessness/stupidity.

Posted by: Jay Saul at May 22, 2006 11:05 AM

>Religion is what lies between reality and consciousness. To act consciously requires a leap of faith, assumptions about the relationship of our perceptions to the real world.

hmm. Disagree w/ this, rather profoundly. Why is 'faith' involved in 'acting consciously', in attempting to engage one's perceptions of reality to 'reality' as it is described *by others* (would 'Reality' here be a 'Something'? sounds like, according to this description).

Rather, why not let go of 'faith' altogether? What the hell is faith anyway except desire for confirmation of a reality not yet given such by the mainstream culture? Let go of 'belief' and one must let go of 'faith' too, no? (Read Woolf's _Orlando_ to get a wonderfully comic, smart perspective on those timeless christian 'virtues' of faith, hope and charity)....

Mitch, why do you need a subtitle, really? (yeah, I know why). Maybe you should reimagine the main title instead, is my point. Instead of invoking 'gods' by means of negation, perhaps an affirmation of 'something' 'else' ?

Posted by: JM at May 22, 2006 11:54 PM

JM, " Disagree w/ this, rather profoundly. Why is 'faith' involved in 'acting consciously'"

Do you believe what you see, hear, smell, taste and feel? Without faith in the reality of the brain's construction of consciousness one is paralyzed. If you do not belief in, have faith in, the world as you see it how can you act? This has nothing to do with the world as described by others; that gets into the construction of social realities and social contracts--faith in the shared symbols of communication.

The individual creates an individual universe and has no way other than by faith in perception and experience (memories) to guide that construction. There is no escaping faith in life.

Posted by: Jay Saul at May 23, 2006 11:29 AM

um, sensory experiences provide one reality, no doubt, but a highly unstable one, no? "The world as described by others" has everything to do with it, I think: it continually demands that one confront one's reality, however it's determined (through consciousness, memory, sensory experience etc). I'd suggest that such questioning/antagonism/struggle provides the vitality of human experience and that it makes 'belief in god(s)' extraneous, if not irrelevant. There's no need for 'faith' in life -- it exists, in all its messy entanglements of language, sensory experience and social constructions. I guess, Jay, the way you describe this has too much metaphysical residue for me and takes me back, in unfortunate ways, to the romantics (Nietzsche, too, Mitch, don't forget...)

Posted by: JM at May 23, 2006 10:12 PM

I'm open to Jay's notion that we can't get by without some sort of "faith." Derrida finds some faith at the bottom of the "communicative act" -- as discussed below:
Faith that others will listen, that we can make ourselves clear. Etc. (Not faith that it will all turn out to make sense or that we will meet again after death.)
JM are you saying above that "faith in life" exists without us even trying, which seems true, or that "life" with "all its messy entanglements" exists without the need for "faith," which seems not true if you take the Derrida/Jay Saul primordial definition of faith.

Posted by: mitch at May 24, 2006 8:16 AM

I think one of the interesting problems we are facing here is the very different backgrounds and vocabularies we bring. Communication requires belief in shared symbols. We are tugging and pulling and pushing trying to find common ground.

I see nothing metaphysical about my interpretation of the construction of consciousness. We use hardwired rules to build our worlds almost instantly. We do not have time to question if consciousness is real if we are to survive. We are hardwired to avoid that question for it puts a disclaimer on all answers.

Posted by: Jay Saul at May 24, 2006 12:45 PM

After reading the "heavy stuff" link I am amazed at the quality of thought that goes into this black hole. (Not your blog, the understanding of belief.)

Exploring belief and disbelief. Or are they one in the same? Huh? Exactly.

I am sorry if I am posting to one thread in another, but that is the nature of fabric: I see no conflict in the study of Zen/meditation and being a "good atheist". They both push one to strip away preconceptions to experience now. I think Zen And The Art of Atheism would not be unnatural.

Haiku kazuntite

Posted by: Jay Saul at May 24, 2006 1:31 PM

So you are the "A" word, huh?

Okay...but how'd you like to have been the "F" word for a chunk of years, like I was?

Fundie!!! LOL

Hope a bit of levity is "A"-okay! : )

Posted by: Bonnie Kim at June 19, 2006 12:26 PM

Post a comment

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)